PORTLAND, Ore. — As protests continued Saturday in Portland as they have for almost two months, U.S. Attorneys and the Department of Homeland Security discussed the growing movement in a news conference.
The crowds appeared to be dwindling before federal agents were brought into the city. On Friday night, the crowd of protesters was upwards of 3,000 people, the Department of Homeland Security said.
In a joint news conference Saturday, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon Craig Gabriel said that the main source of conflict between federal agents and demonstrators was the damage to the fence around the federal courthouse by demonstrators.
Federal officers regularly fire tear gas and other less-lethal munitions after being provoked by individuals damaging the fence and the courthouse entryway.
"If protesters don’t seek to damage or destroy the fence then the officers have no need to go outside the fence or leave federal property," Gabriel said in the phone conference.
A DHS spokesperson referred to demonstrators as anarchists and rioters. He said that demonstrators attempted to drive a vehicle into the fence and set fire to it more than once.
On Friday, the U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams showed reporters the damage outside the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse. According to federal prosecutors, there has been more than $50,000 in damage from graffiti, fires and vandalism.
Williams also lashed out at city and community leaders for not taking control of the nightly protests.
“This is just mindless violence and anyone who defends the violence is enabling this to continue,” he said.
Williams said 18 people have been arrested on federal charges for their alleged roles in the violence at the federal courthouse this week.
Gabriel said a total of 60 people had been arrested on or around the federal courthouse property since early July. There are 46 pending charges, according to Gabriel, including 30 misdemeanors, 8 felonies and 8 violation citations. The crimes range from assault on a federal officer to arson and willfully damaging federal property.
Residents downtown, however, are not concerned with the damage to the courthouse so much as they are concerned with being tear-gassed in their homes and being kept awake by fireworks and commotion as Portland enters almost 60 days of protest.
They say they want the nightly protests to end.